It’s one of those lightweight Sunday features that let The New York Times show its softer side.
I know, I know, I know. This mini-feature focuses on a worship leader at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which is to the Northeast religious establishment (especially on worship issues) what, well, Georgetown University is to Catholic higher education. Can you say, “Liturgical Dances With Wolves“?
Nevertheless, I was very disappointed that “A Choirmaster With Many Masters” didn’t ask a very basic question while it focused on the work of the powerful choirmaster Kent Tritle. The question: What is his understanding of the role of God, and even the Holy Spirit, in his work as a worship leader at the cathedral? What is his understanding of God’s role in the art he helps produce as director of Musica Sacra and the Oratorio Society of New York?
Since day one here at GetReligion, we have been arguing that the press needs to focus more attention on the actual religious beliefs and practices of people on the religious left. Too often, Christian liberals are treated like hollow politicos who are active in politics and arts and, well, that’s that. They don’t get to talk about the actual content of their faith and how it affects their lives.
In this case, here is what we start off with in this breezy discussion of the work of one of New York’s most powerful leaders in religious art and his life with his partner, Arthur Fiacco:
CATS, COFFEE, COCKATOO – On Sundays, I’m the one who gets up at 6. Arthur stays in bed because he’s probably had a late performance Saturday night. The cats are waiting right outside the door, so I feed them first thing, then I turn on the coffee machine and retrieve Precious from her night cage, in a closet, and she sits on my shoulder while I drink my coffee. I crack open my datebook and get my priorities in order for the day. Then I make a move to shave and shower, and Precious — we may be a couple of gay guys, but no, we didn’t name her — comes with me; she loves that rain-forest experience.
And then it’s off to the cathedral for work:
PRACTICE AND SERVICE – The organ in the cathedral is available for practice from 7 to 8 a.m. It’s one of the great organs in the world, a 1911 Aeolian Skinner. At 9, I coach the volunteer choir; at 9:30 I rehearse the professional choir; and around 10:20 we head into the cathedral for a sound check. Around 90 percent of the time I’m conducting the choir, but I sometimes play the prelude and postlude. The service is at 11, so after sound check I get robed up in purple and white and off we go.
And then it’s off for a quick bite of “mixed salad and linguine with garlic and oil” with the mister and, maybe a nap.
Later, it’s back to the cathedral for more worship:
MORE MUSIC – I go back to my office for the 3 p.m. rehearsal with a professional ensemble for the 4 p.m. evensong service. It lasts about an hour; it’s very, very choral.
Later there’s more music, roasted chicken and, of course, chardonnay. That’s that.
By all means, please read it all. This day in the life of a powerful religious artist is — as served up by the Times — totally devoid of religious faith and intellectual religious content. I could not believe it. Honest.
So, is this mini-feature incomplete without the Times people asking religious questions? Let’s put it this way: If Tritle manages to do all of this elite worship and liturgical work without some kind of foundation of Christian beliefs, then that fact is even more newsworthy and fascinating than if he is a liberal believer who is working within the framework of his own beliefs. That fact is even more newsworthy, more worthy of precise questions and answers.
Is the Times really saying that there is no faith content to the leadership of worship at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine? Come on!